FEATURE: Paul Cézanne paints an African man named Scipio

FEATURE ONE: Writer Jan Asante looks at Cézanne’s portrait of an African model
Artist: Paul Cézanne
Title: O Negro Cipião (Scipio, the Negro)
Date: c.1866-1868
Collection: Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil
Background: This painting was produced by the infamous French impressionist Paul Cézanne. It represents an African model supposedly named ‘Scipio’ whom Cézanne met at the Académie Suisse – an alternative arts school in Paris that became a creative hub for the Impressionist group. This painting originally belonged to Claude Monet, who described it as a ‘fragment of raw power.’
Response: Jan Asante, London, UK

“At first glance, there appears to be a certain layered delicacy of tone and an almost empathetic subtlety of figurative illumination in Cezanne’s depiction of the chiselled black male form of Scipio. ‘The Negro’ (whom I am inclined to read within a New World historical context), here appears not as an easily dismissable object of caricature, but is conveyed moreso as the intense subject, whose humanity Cezanne quietly makes apparent by capturing the detail of his strong yet seemingly wearied form in the moment of gracefully poised submission to fatigue. It feels symbolic too that Scipio the Negro is in form, as poignantly visible as he is simultaneously obscured. The broad expanse of his naked back draws the viewers gaze with immediacy, yet his face in shadowy profile lends a certain mystery to his identity.

It’s tempting to read the details of form in Cezanne’s painting as a mild allegory of sorts, perhaps probing ideological antagonisms between New World and Old at the peak of escalating movements towards liberation within the colonies of the old Empire.”

Jan Asante is a practicing London-based couture designer with a peripheral penchant for the literary arts, counter-culture media politics and Ibero-American movements of the African diaspora. Digital contact on Myspace and Facebook.


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